While it has put us in direct confrontation with numerous existing dysfunctional systems, COVID-19 has also shed light on innovative ways of conducting businesses and managing education. Whether or not these novel ways will be mainstreamed, that is still to be seen.
In this COVID-19 era, higher education students are one main group facing many challenges including but not limited to changing learning environments, adapting to rapid technological advancement and preparing for a volatile and a struggling job market upon graduation. Thus, establishing a connection with these youth becomes crucial.
In a roundtable discussion titled “The Future Transformation of Business and Management Education: A Student perspective”, ten students from AUC and other national and international universities express their opinions regarding lessons learned from the COVID-19 situation, their goals and aspirations, current and future challenges, their recommendations to face those challenges and their expectations out of business education and the job market. The roundtable took place on February 8,2021 as part of the American University in Cairo (AUC) Business Forum, and was moderated by Randa EL-Bedewy, associate professor of management at the AUC School of Business.
“What I learned from this: one [is] resilience and the second one is surrendering to the things we cannot control and embracing the ones we can,” shares Tunap Paul, Computer Science student at Bennett University in India.
Adaptability, resilience, the importance of over-communication, planning, time management, having more empathy, the significance of human interactions, and self learning were among the key lessons shared by the students.
“There is a business concept that is called pivoting and it simply means fundamentally changing the direction of operations to survive the changing environment and I feel that this concept applies to all aspects of our lives as well,” says Ali Labana, chief executive officer (CEO) of the student-run Entrepreneurs’ Society and business administration graduating senior at AUC School of Business.
Heba Abu Ahmed, vice president of the student-run Business Association and Business Administration graduating senior at AUC School of Business, highlights the importance of being a life-long learner, while Ahmed Rezeq, international graduating senior at the AUC School of Business studying Management of Information and Communication Technology focuses on the importance of students equipping themselves with a good set of skills to enable them to survive the crisis.
When asked about their goals and aspirations in this changing world, interestingly enough most of the speakers pointed out the importance of falling in love with the process rather than focusing on the end result. Helping people, giving back to the community and enhancing the lives of the underprivileged and the marginalized, empowering the voiceless were all mentioned as life-long goals. On a personal level, their goals were focusing on gaining life experiences, being entrepreneurs and pursuing advanced academic degrees.
Perceived challenges in a digital world
The COVID-19 crisis has laid bare the inequalities in the access to the digital infrastructure, hence an inequity in accessing both education and job opportunities. However, access to internet does not come without a cost. As pointed out by the speakers, some studies have shown that online teaching has caused a deterioration in education quality, miscommunication and decreased morale, as well as, reduced human connection.
In addition, several speakers referred to the severe competition in the job market, and the eminent need for students to have hands on experience and to interact directly with the key players in their fields, in order to bridge the gap between theory and practice.
Aditya Dhingra from Birla University, India and Heba Abu Ahmed stressed the significance of mentorship as a key learning model and how this is affected negatively in the online learning model. “It has become more difficult to have those kind of mentorship interactions…because even in an internship which is happening online it is not the same thing… you don’t get the experience of your senior that you get during lunches or coffee breaks or travel,” Dhingra explains.
How to overcome those challenges to support other students?
The students’ key recommendations are to focus on self development through integrating more experiential learning and practical experience, do job shadowing as early as possible, acquire as many tools as they can whether by taking online courses, explore courses outside their major, being involved in extracurricular activities or even developing a new habit. They advise their fellow students to forgo the traditional definition of education and think more holistically to expand and sharpen their skills for better market readiness after graduation.
As for schools and universities, they are asked to make optimum use of different online platforms, and invite industry experts to talk to students, as well as, maximize networking opportunities and internships available for students.
Online classes: The way forward
Online education can be a blessing in disguise if we made the best use of the resources available to improve the students’ learning experience. For instance, using different online platforms simultaneously, utilizing all the features like breakout rooms, polls, and instilling interactive activities throughout the lectures can make them more engaging. More importantly, conducting 360 courses where several professors deliver the same content simultaneously, and inviting international business leaders to talk to students about the day-to-day aspects of their professions will give students a more profound understanding of what to expect in their careers. “Those guest speakers should talk about their experience that is related to the content the students are studying,” says Khaled Essam, first Egyptian triathelete to represent Egypt in the Olympic Games and an AUC School of Business graduate. He adds that this would enable students to touch base with the job market and get a glimpse of the real world.
Additionally, diversifying the means of delivering the content is crucial. For instance, professors can visit companies and integrate videos and interviews with employees about their daily work, their job description, and the different processes that they implement. Abu Ahmed mentions that her best learning experience is when her professors invite students to brainstorm during the lecture, and let them reach certain concepts or definitions on their own, instead of just giving them the information through a presentation.
Labana also suggests the use of simulations, imitating the operation of a process or a system in real life as a means to transfer practical experience to students online. Mohamed Bahaa, academic advocacy general manager at the AUC Student Union and business administration graduating senior, adds that introducing virtual job shadowing is extremely valuable in communicating practical experience to students. They both believe that this will help students better understand how academic content could be applied in real life.
It has become evident that while the pandemic will eventually end, the power of online learning will still have a lasting effect on global education for many years to come.